The Western Athletic Conference basketball tournament departed Las Vegas in 1999 when UNLV left the league to help form the Mountain West Conference.
Ten years later, the WAC is looking to return, thanks to the success of the recently concluded West Coast Conference Tournament at the Orleans Arena.
The WCC’s first tournament in Las Vegas wrapped up Monday to rave reviews. WAC commissioner Karl Benson attended the title game between Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s and liked what he saw.
“I’m really impressed,” Benson said. “Walking around the building, it has an electricity and a tournament atmosphere to it, which is what we’re looking for.”
The WAC is committed to play its tournament at UNR’s Lawlor Events Center this season and next. After that, anything is possible.
Benson said there’s been a strong push to play at a neutral site. Las Vegas and Salt Lake City have been prominently mentioned.
The issue with Las Vegas has been the venue. The Mountain West occupies the Thomas & Mack Center during the same time that the WAC would want to hold its event. But the 7,845-seat Orleans Arena would be an adequate alternative.
“For the WAC, 8,000 would serve us quite well,” Benson said. “The initial concern was being on a casino property. This is different from doing it on a campus. But what we’ve seen here is the attitude to separate the event from the casino.”
The WCC asked The Orleans not to sell alcohol in the arena and not to list its games in the sports book. The casino agreed.
Benson said betting will be a big issue in trying to sell some of his presidents on playing the WAC tournament at The Orleans.
“I think the WCC broke the barrier,” Benson said. “They will make it an easier sell to our presidents.
“The alcohol isn’t as big an issue with us. Several of our schools sell alcohol at their games. But the gambling is an issue, and while I’m not naive to think someone can’t make a bet on our games, to not offer it at the sports book at the site would be important.”
WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich said he expects to be back at the Orleans Arena next year and for years to come after the WCC set attendance records for single sessions (7,845) and the entire tournament (28,131).
“We certainly hope to be back,” Zaninovich said. “We’ll meet with our presidents later this month and go over everything. But we’re very pleased.”
The WCC has three years left on its deal in Las Vegas.
Benson said piggy-backing off the WCC event would be no problem and added that the WAC would not mind sharing the city with the Mountain West should it elect to remain in Las Vegas after its deal runs out next year.
“I think Las Vegas is big enough for both the WAC and the Mountain West,” Benson said.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913.